Plant Responses to Climate Change

Study Shows Experiments Underestimate Plant Responses to Climate Change
Experiments may dramatically underestimate how plants will respond to climate change in the future. That’s the conclusion of our analysis of 50 plant studies on four continents, published in the journal Nature, which found that shifts in the timing of flowering and leafing in plants due to global warming appear to be much greater than estimated by warming experiments.

Our study suggests that predicted ecosystem changes—including continuing advances in the start of spring across much of the globe—may be far greater than current estimates based on data from experiments. Up to now, it’s been assumed that experimental systems will respond the same as natural systems respond—but they don’t. Experiments predict that every degree rise Celsius would advance plants’ flowering and leafing from half a day to 1.6 days. But in looking at actual observations in nature, we found advances four times faster for leafing—and over eight times faster for flowering. These records consistently showed that phenological events are advancing, on average, about 5 to 6 days per degree Celsius.